Why not a Defense stimulus?

If one wanted to follow Keynesian economics and structure a government stimulus, wouldn’t high-paying jobs that produce material useful for national priorities be at the top of the list?  Defense contractors and their unions wonder the same thing, according to the Washington Post.  While Barack Obama begs for shovel-ready projects for items like snowmakers in Duluth, the Pentagon keeps canceling proven weapons systems that provide tens of thousands of high-paying jobs to skilled workers.

Why, it’s almost as if the Obama administration has a problem with the military:

Some of the nation’s largest defense contractors, labor unions and trade groups are banding together to argue that the Obama administration is putting 100,000 or more jobs at risk by proposing deep cuts in weapons programs.

The defense industry and its supporters argue that the proposals by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will increase unemployment during a historic economic crisis. Why, they ask, would President Obama push hundreds of billions in stimulus spending to create jobs only to propose weapons cuts that would eliminate tens of thousands of them?

“It doesn’t make sense that our government is looking at trying to save or create jobs at the same time it’s talking about cutting something like this,” said Jeff Goen, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers chapter in Marietta, Ga., where Lockheed Martin does final assembly on the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which is slated to be cut.

Lockheed decided to go quietly in the end, but its employees and suppliers may not be so easily defeated.   Lockheed got more funding for its next project, but that may not help the people who will get thrown out of work in the Raptor shutdown.  They’re looking at unemployment, and the prospects for aerospace work don’t exactly look bright in the next few years.

Few would object to a reform of Defense procurement, as long as it comes along with government-spending reform in general.  Gates wants to save money and focus on what he sees as priorities for the future in order to allocate resources rationally.  That sounds fiscally responsible, but if so, it’s the only area in government that’s doing it.  And since national security is one of the few explicitly Constitutional duties of the federal government, Defense seems an odd place to start housecleaning.

This administration has allocated $787 billion outside of the normal budgeting process for economic stimulus spending on items from snowmakers to bike paths, from medical-record conversions to filling potholes, almost all of which will produce nothing but short-term and low-wage jobs in exchange for products and services that have no relation to the mission of the federal government.  Four percent of that money could have gone to the Raptor and saved 95,000 jobs, and a couple of percentage points more could have kept valuable weapons systems — and jobs — from disappearing.  In a DC spending spree, the parsimonious treatment of Defense seems very odd indeed.